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The U.S. called off military strikes against Iran last night that were approved by President Donald Trump, according to an administration official, abandoning a move that would have dramatically escalated tensions that are already running high.
The attack, ordered after Iranian forces shot down a U.S. Navy drone over the Strait of Hormuz, would have involved airstrikes and was close to being carried out when it was stopped, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss a national security matter. The official would not discuss whether the plan might be revived.
Trump warned Tehran via Oman that an attack was imminent, according to a Reuters report today that cited Iranian officials it didn’t name. Trump conveyed the message that he was against war and wanted to talk, and gave Iran a short period of time to respond, the report said.
This morning, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it had called the Swiss ambassador, Markus Leitner, into the ministry for talks. The Swiss embassy also represents U.S. interests in Iran, and the Swiss envoy traditionally serves as the conduit for messages between the two nations, which have no diplomatic relations.
Airstrikes would have raised the specter of a far broader conflict in the volatile region. The move and its reversal underscore the wavering approach the president has shown at times regarding military force. He has repeatedly and fiercely lashed out at Iran and North Korea, but then cooled his rhetoric when hostilities threatened to erupt into open conflict. On two occasions since he took office, he has ordered limited military strikes on Syria. Read the latest from Tony Capaccio and John Harney.
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton at the White House on Thursday.
Happening on the Hill
Blumenauer Rules Out USMCA Vote by August: A vote on Trump’s trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement is not going to happen by the congressional August recess, House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said yesterday. “I think it is going to take some time,” he said. His remarks signal that upcoming negotiations with the Trump administration won’t be rushed to accommodate quick action on the pact. Analysts agree it’ll be harder for Congress to move on the deal the closer it gets to the election season. Read more from Rossella Brevetti.
SEC’s Clayton Regains Swing Status: The Securities and Exchange Commission is poised to have a full set of commissioners for the first time since January after senators yesterday confirmed former SEC official Allison Lee to fill an open spot. She’ll fill a Democratic seat vacated earlier this year by Kara Stein, who was Lee’s boss when she worked there. Lee is poised to restore the political balance to the agency that had made Chairman Jay Clayton a swing vote on major issues. Read more from Ben Bain.
Border Faces ‘Overwhelming’ Strain: The chief of U.S. Border Patrol defended using military personnel at the Mexico border, saying those extra resources are needed “as long as we face this crisis” of an influx of migrants. Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee yesterday, Border Chief Carla Provost said border apprehensions and drug seizures have gotten “overwhelming.” She said agency officers are already working 50 hours a week, and sometimes she has to ask them to work longer in a physically and emotionally demanding role. Read more from Jarrell Dillard.
- Meanwhile, Mexico will take greater control of its southern border and ask that foreigners register their arrivals in an effort to control migration at the same time that it protects human rights and promotes development in Central America, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said yesterday. Read more from Eric Martin.
Air Ambulance Billing Changes: Air ambulance groups are warning that a plan to reduce surprise medical bills may eliminate emergency air medical resources, even as lawmakers look to probe what they view as abuses from the industry. A package of legislation from a Senate committee would dictate that patients who need air ambulances would be required to pay only what their insurers have set for cost-sharing for those services. The companies would be banned from trying to bill patients directly for anything beyond the rates that insurers have set. Alex Ruoff and Shaun Courtney have more.
Push to Weaken Car Efficiency Rules Slammed: House Democrats assailed a Trump administration proposal to weaken Obama-era fuel economy standards for automobiles, saying it’ll worsen climate change, harm the auto industry and cost consumers more at gas stations. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) yesterday called the proposal one of the administration’s “most egregious assaults on American consumers, the U.S. economy and the climate.” Read more from Ryan Beene.
Targeting YouTube’s Kids Content: A measure that would ban video-host sites like YouTube from automatically recommending videos of children was unveiled yesterday, a day after reports that the company violated rules on collecting data on and advertising to children. Companies must take additional steps to change their algorithms on videos featuring minors or face fines of up to $10,000 a day, under a measure from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), according to bill text obtained by Bloomberg Government. Read more from Rebecca Kern.
Daines Lifts Hold on Welfare Bill: A key welfare program will get a short-term renewal after Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) lifted objections to the bill in return for the promise of a hearing this fall. Daines placed a hold on a House bill (H.R. 2940) that would extend the program until October. Daines said he wanted more Senate attention for his proposal (S. 802) to revamp the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program by adding on tougher work requirements. Read more from Katherine Scott.
Food Assistance Benefits: Lawmakers yesterday got into a heated debate over how states should qualify people for food assistance benefits. The White House 2020 budget request included a proposal to eliminate “broad-based categorical eligibility,” a voluntary standard used for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that automatically enters those who receive non-cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal welfare program, reports Teaganne Finn.
Republicans at a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on the White House’s proposal yesterday referenced a story from the Washington Free Beacon about Rob Undersander, a millionaire who applied for food aid benefits via the broad-based categorical eligibility standard and was then approved to receive benefits. Republicans cited the story to support cutting the eligibility standard.
But Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Nutrition and Oversight, said it seemed “Republicans only like to promote states’ rights when it means cutting off access to benefits.”
States currently have flexibility to use broad-based categorical eligibility and are criticized for cutting asset tests and having inconsistent income limits from state to state. The subcommittee’s ranking member, Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), said, “Mr. Undersander didn’t lie on his forms, he exposed the flaws of a failed system. It’s not his fault that our nation’s checks and balances don’t work.”
Veterans Harassed Online: An effort to assist veterans who experience sexual harassment trauma on social media is gaining opposition from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA during a House hearing yesterday pushed back on a bill that would expand the definition of military sexual trauma to ensure service members and veterans who experienced online sexual harassment have access to VA counseling and treatment. Read more from Megan Howard.
Elections and Politics
Trump Open to $15 Minimum Wage: Trump said he’s considering backing an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour, as some Democratic presidential candidates have proposed, but says salary growth during his presidency should assuage concerns over fair pay. “I am looking at that,” Trump said in an interview with “Noticias Telemundo.” Trump also said he had “already created a minimum wage because wages have gone up more than anybody in many decades right now” as a result of the strong economy.
Democratic presidential candidates have embraced protests by workers calling for a higher minimum wage and more protection from workplace harassment, and U.S. House Democrats are building support for a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 but a number of states and localities have adopted higher rates. Read more from Justin Sink.
Biden on Defense at Black Voters Event: Democratic front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden was expected to bask in his lead in the polls and strong backing among African Americans at a jam-packed weekend of campaign events in South Carolina, but a misstep over his fond recollections of working alongside segregationist lawmakers is helping Democratic rivals put him on the defensive.
His appearance at Rep. Jim Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) “World Famous Fish Fry” today will be the first time Biden has participated in a gathering of most of the 2020 candidates. The event in Columbia was set to play to Biden’s strengths as an experienced, glad-handing politician, but the most recent controversy could cut into his strong support among black voters, who account for 60% of South Carolina’s electorate. Read more from Tyler Pager and Emma Kinery.
Senate Career a Threat to Biden: Biden has enjoyed front-runner status since joining the race, but now he is encountering the same pitfalls as other ambitious senators who have found that their experience and record can be a liability. His struggles to defend his remarks this week about finding common ground with two segregationists is an early sign of the trouble he could have explaining a complicated voting record and his nostalgia for the cloakroom collegiality that has steadily diminished since he first was elected in 1972. Read more from Jennifer Epstein and Steven T. Dennis.
What Else to Know
G-20 Will Be a Faceoff Between Trump, Xi: There was a time in the not-too-distant past when “G” summits were earnest, even turgid affairs, at which worthy matters were discussed in polite sitdowns between the leaders of major economies. That was before Trump, of course. Still, the biggest event in Osaka is likely to be a sideline meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. After playing down its likelihood, Trump raised expectations this week when he tweeted that, after a “very good telephone conversation,” the two leaders would hold an “extended meeting” during the summit.
The best-case scenario laid out by officials and analysts from both countries is that the meeting might yield a pause in any new U.S. tariffs and a resumption of the talks that broke down in May. While such a truce would extend the uncertainty of the past year, it would at least offer the hope of short-term peace. Read more from Shawn Donnan and Peter Martin.
Xi Tells Kim World Wants More U.S. Talks: Xi told Kim Jong Un that the world wants more nuclear talks with the U.S., drawing complaints from the North Korean leader that he’d already attempted to compromise with little success. The Chinese president said at a landmark visit to Pyongyang yesterday he was willing to assume a “positive and constructive role” toward achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Read more from Jihye Lee and Dandan Li.
Administration Thwarts Health Inquiries: A key health-care agency is blocking House Democrats’ efforts to probe the Trump administration’s treatment of Obamacare, Medicare, and public health crises. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services hasn’t provided a meaningful response to the majority of oversight requests from House committee chairmen this Congress, but it has responded to almost every chairman’s request in the Republican-led Senate, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis.
House committees are looking at a variety of health issues, including how the administration is dealing with increasing rates of maternal deaths, how it is curbing inappropriate prescribing of antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes, and how CMS Administrator Seema Verma spends taxpayer dollars on Republican communications consultants. Read more from Shira Stein.
Hunting Fakers Among 10,000 Commenters: If you submitted a comment on a regulation to a federal agency between 2013 and 2017, the federal watchdog agency might soon have a question for you: did you really send that comment? The Government Accountability Office said in a statement yesterday that it was sending out an email survey to more than 10,000 commenters believed to have submitted feedback electronically in that time frame after lawmakers asked the agency to examine whether the comments came from the actual people whose names were associated with them. Read more from Cheryl Bolen.
White House Backtracks on Job Corps Closures: The Labor and Agriculture departments are backing off a proposal to shutter or reorganize 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers amid criticism by lawmakers and some interest groups, a spokesperson said. The 25 centers are meant to “train underserved youth for meaningful careers,” according to the program’s website. They offer technical training, conservation techniques, and firefighting skills. About 1,100 U.S. Forest Service workers stood to lose their jobs if the administration’s plan had moved forward. Read more from Andrew Wallender.
Stone Violated Bail: Embattled political consultant Roger Stone risks being jailed during his criminal case after prosecutors accused Trump’s longtime ally of violating his bail terms by attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe in recent social-media posts. Stone may have tainted the jury pool with posts on Instagram and Facebook questioning the veracity of Mueller’s finding that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s servers, prosecutors said in a letter to the judge handling the case. Stone claimed Russia didn’t do it. Read more from Erik Larson.
Coming up at BGOV
The State of Congressional Investigations
July 16, 2019